Scouting Report and Prediction: #24 Michigan State 4-2 vs. #6 UM 5-1

Mark Dantonio vs. UM (PHOTO:  Duffy Carpenter)
Mark Dantonio vs. UM (PHOTO: Duffy Carpenter)

Scouting Report and Prediction: #24 Michigan State 4-2 vs. #6 UM 5-1

A look at this week’s opponent…

I started this article last week with this (ITALICS): I write this for the first time in 12 years truly perplexed. I have prided myself over many many years of bringing you the best information. I wrote the following last week: We will know this week what the Spartans are. Will they adjust? You can be balanced and still pass to set up the run rather than run to set up the pass. You can make adjustments or stay stubborn and lose. We shall see.

The changes that they worked on before NW didn’t happen. They did use them last week simplifying the offense with a MORE (not total, just more) zone running scheme over power. That should and I expect it will continue for the rest of the season.

UM, head coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t want to talk much this week. I don’t blame him. His fan base will explode with another loss to Dantonio and he knows that Dantonio has his number. Harbaugh said this week, "I think we could all use a break from the clichés that have been plowed so thoroughly on both sides."

Mark Dantonio followed Harbaugh’s lead of playing nice saying, “Michigan comes in here 6-1, 4-0 in the Big Ten. I think they are playing outstanding, they're ranked in the Top-10 in the country, which deservedly so. Again it will be a challenge.”

The most that the Michigan head man would really say was that this game does carry more emotion. "Yes. In-state rival, Big Ten opponent. It always has, is, and always will be."

When MSU has the ball…

As stated above, that MSU went with a more aggressive zone scheme (primarily and not totally). Some fans have taken my clamoring for a more aggressive offense as meaning they should pass and stop running. That is absurd.

I wanted them to be aggressive and change a complicated system that wasn’t working and use the pass to set up the run. That is aggressive and I expect they will not stop this year now that they have made the move.

QB Brian Lewerke said of the UM defense that, “That they like to play a lot of cover-one man stuff, like to blitz obviously. They are a very aggressive defense. You got a taste of that last year, for really the first time. It will take preparation, preparing for the blitzes, make sure you see them coming and make sure you know how to pick them up and change protection and stuff like that. Just get the ball out quickly.”

Dantonio says of the Wolverine D that, “When you look at them, I think you look at them defensively, a lot of starters back, two linebackers back that start, the entire secondary, really three out of their top four guys up front. Playing very well on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously a lot of pressure. They're leading the nation I think on pass defense, various others things in the Big Ten.”

The Wolverines are rightfully frustrated. Dantonio is 8-3 vs. UM and 2-1 vs. Harbaugh. In both games that Dantonio won, he outcoached Harbaugh badly.

Wolverine star and 5th year Sr. DT Lawrence Marshall said. "We're just trying to win this game and shush everybody up. I'm tired of everybody talking about Michigan not being where we were before. And as a team, we want to change that."

MSU has to play smart. They aren’t going to march up down and over the great UM D. BUT, better to punt then have a crucial turnover and give the UM offense that is going to be facing the terrific MSU D some help.

Lewerke and the offense must play smart. Avoid turnovers and live to let your D do their job.

When MSU is on defense…

MLB Joe Bachie said of the emerging Wolverines compared to last year that, “Obviously they've got a highly-rated quarterback over there and I don't think they have had one past couple years since I've been here. There's big talk about him. You know, we are going to prepare for these guys with everything we've got. You've got to bring your best to this game. You have to prepare that way. Their offense is good. They are talking highly of their O-line. It's an exciting game, rivalry game. We'll be ready for it.

Dantonio said, “Offensively, the quarterback is playing well, running the football successfully, big play offense in a lot of respects. So a very well-coached football team and we'll be challenged as always. That's what you get in this conference.”

S Khari Willis said of the 2018 Wolverines compared to the 2017 version, “I think the same thing. I think they think real highly of their quarterback. One of the things he brings that maybe they didn't have in the past is ability to run and make plays with his legs. O-Line, like Joe said, they talk highly of those guys, as well. I feel like they still like to do some of the similar things and they will have some pieces out on the edge, as well. It's going to be a challenge but one that we're looking forward to definitely.”

The MSU D must attack Shea Patterson the UM QB. He is good but struggles under pressure. Pressure him and you will win. He is NOT as talented as Trace McSorley but how many are. If the MSU D can do to Patterson what they did to the PSU QB star, they will win if the MSU offense doesn’t help them.

Intangibles…

Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don’t remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and give up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus five ratio at least every game. Teams that win the rule of five win 91% of ball games.

I wrote prior to the Northwestern game: MSU has the plan to change, will they stick with it? If they do, the Spartans are back. If they do not, this is going to be a long, tough season.

I was certain (Wrongly) that if they wouldn’t make the changes for NW, why would they at any time. Thankfully Dantonio did. While I do not think the Spartans can make the playoff by winning out, I do think they will win the Big Ten East if they win on Saturday.

I can tell you this. The changes that were put in place for the Northwestern game and not used were broken out for the PSU game. Lewerke said, “I think the loss the week before kind of showed that a little more. Just coming off the loss, there was a lot of stuff we needed to improve on. I think that loss honestly was one of the better things that could have happened to us, just to figure out what was wrong and figure out what we needed to fix. I think that kind of showed last week when we came out and got a big win on the road.”

You can never figure Dantonio out for trick plays. He loves them. Especially against Michigan. He said of his penchant for Trick plays that, “We've got to find some more. I don't know, you know, you've got to take risks as coaches sometimes, too. I thought it was the right time. We needed to get a drive going, and it was late in the first quarter and so I thought that was the time, and as far as the field goal, you know, that was the time. We didn't execute it. It's all about: At the end of the day, can you execute. Can one side or the other, can they execute. We didn't get that one done but we worked at it.”

Extra Point…

While Michigan feels entitled to football success, it is not a reality for the last 11 years. Willis talked about the Spartans experience in big games being a blessing. “I feel like it can, it can possibly play a factor because the more experienced you are, that's confidence and stuff like that. I feel like every game and every day presents new challenges of their own and I feel like today, we've got to go out and meet the challenge of getting to know them, getting ourselves familiar with them and getting ready for Saturday. I feel like that experience and all that stuff is good and cool, but we've got to come out and we've got to prepare. We've got to play this game, just like we would play any other game a little bit more.”
Dantonio did his best to play nice. Including this doozy signaling out the rivalry since Harbaugh has arrived, “I’ll tell you one thing about the three games that we've had, '15, '16, '17, I think they have been played with great sportsmanship on the field, I really do. Everybody's playing hard and I think that's good for college football, well-coached football teams and respect; respect what they have done.”

There is one major intangible that is NOT being talked about by anyone other than Spartan Nation that I am aware of. MSU has an immense internal pressure that they place on themselves for this game. Harbaugh and Michigan have immense pressure being place on themselves internally and externally by an anxious fan base and an outside the UM wall America wondering when the hype equals the production.

Make NO mistake. Michigan State wants this game and craves this game. UM is desperate. They must have it. All of the external pressure is stress for UM. They will make a mistake at some point in this game because they will be trying too hard. Will MSU give up that advantage with dumb mistakes?

Prediction…

Joe Bachie said this week something that best suits the Spartans mentality for this rivalry. “I hate losing more than I like winning so if I were to lose this game, it would mean a lot more to me.”

With two of the best defenses in America going at it this week, it certainly plays into the type of game Dantonio loves. “Well, you can't make mistakes on either side of the ball, really. You can't blow the coverage or a gap and also you can't turn the ball over. I think that's huge. Traditionally, the team that's rushed for the most yardage has usually won the game. That's probably true in most cases, what I said last week in terms of our numbers.”

He concluded with, “But that's the tradition, so it's heart of hinged on defense. Most games usually do. I'm very impressed with their defense, very impressed with their front four, front seven, they are active and quick. They are very well-coached. Same with their back end. They have a good football team.”

Matt Hladik from TheSpun.com said on Spartan Nation Radio earlier this week that he predicted 27-21 UM. Jon Schopp said 24-21 Spartans, Coach Chuck Grenier 17-14 MSU and Matt Charbonneau says 21-17 MSU. Lastly, Nick Baumgardner said this summer he expected MSU, but earlier this week said UM, but very close with no score. While I never wavered on this team’s talent, I did waver after not implementing the changes for the Northwestern game and waiting until PSU. Faith restored I say MSU wins this 20-17.

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